CHENNAI: The Supreme Court has once again made it clear that erections done without mandatory prior environment clearance (EC) are illegal and on Friday refused to entertain an appeal filed by ETA Star, a Chennai-based builder.
ETA Star, which is one of the largest building firms with multiple premium projects ready for work, had moved the SC seeking similar relaxation as six other Tamil Nadu-based builders got after the apex court stayed the National Green Tribunal (NGT) verdict.
The six builders had got EC after the apex court stayed the NGT’s order that quashed the office memorandum of the Union Environment Ministry granting EC after erection.
Taking a strict view, the SC Bench refused to intervene and asked ETA Star to approach the NGT. The original petitioner S P Muthuraman’s counsel in the SC, Raghavendra Shreyas said that the SC chose to make no observations. “If such petitions are entertained, it would open the Pandora’s box. The builders can knock on the door of NGT, which will use its discretion and decide whether to accept such petitions,” the Bench observed.
Meanwhile, the petitioner’s counsel challenged the right of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) in issuing EC to six builders stating the decision was contentious. However, the Union Ministry in its affidavit before the SC defended its decision saying because the NGT order was stayed, the Ministry used the office memorandum to issue the EC to the builders. The SC will be deliberating on the legality of such EC in its next hearing in April first week. The ETA Star counsel R Saravana Kumar told Express the SC had given the liberty to approach the NGT and “We will do it. How can six builders alone get relief from the stay order? There is a lot of ambiguity on NGT order in SSM builders and promoters case, where the builder paid `36 crore as fine. The court didn’t quantify the environmental loss and makes no relaxation to the fine amount.”
Ajit Kumar Chordia, president, Chennai-chapter, Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India, said in the SSM case the NGT didn’t speak about the money-equivalent of the damage the project proponent caused the environment to impose the ‘polluter pays principle’. “If the loss to environment is not quantified, the maximum fine the court can impose under the Environment Act is `1.5 lakh. The builders have only committed a procedural mistake,” Chordia said.